"Momentum," late Hall of Fame baseball manager Earl Weaver repeated, "is the next day's starting pitcher."
Which is so convenient for the College of Charleston. The Cougars are in first place in their first season in the Colonial Athletic Association, thanks first to a young pitching staff steaming into the regular-season stretch drive.
But there isn't much room for error, or injury. At No. 72 on the NCAA's Ratings Percentage Index list this week, the Cougars (31-13, 10-2 in the CAA) probably will have to win the CAA tournament to get an NCAA tournament bid.
That makes for two main goals over the 11 games prior to the CAA tournament from May 21-24 at UNC-Wilmington: Win and keep those arms healthy.
"I think we do feel like we'll have to win the tournament," College of Charleston pitching coach Matt Heath said. "But we've already put in some strategy to take some workload off the starters and make sure everybody goes into the postseason fresh. We haven't had a lot of games where guys have thrown over 100 pitches anyway."
Momentum is Taylor Clarke, the scheduled College of Charleston starter Friday night at UNC-Wilmington. The sophomore right-hander, a transfer from new CAA rival Towson, is 8-2 with a 2.82 earned run average. Freshman right-handers Bailey Ober (7-2, 1.27 ERA) and Tyler Thornton (3-4, 3.73 ERA) will get the other weekend starts against the Seahawks.
If things go wrong, Heath has options.
Quality starts, and finishes
Eric Bauer, a sophomore lefty, is 4-0 with a 1.85 ERA. Bouncing back from a wrist injury, he just won the CAA pitcher of the week award for 9.1 innings of shutout work over a start at Georgia Southern and a relief appearance against Bethune-Cookman.
Closer Michael Hanzlik is 2-1 with a 4.00 ERA and nine saves. "The father of the group," Heath said of the senior right-hander.
Right-handed starter Nathan Helvey, a sophomore, is 3-4 with a 4.24 ERA.
Chase Henry, a junior right-hander, is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA.
"We're feeling pretty good," Bauer said. "We're getting all the pieces back and we're rolling."
The College of Charleston leads the CAA in team ERA at 2.83. Northeastern is second at 2.90 and William & Mary a distant third at 4.44.
Past Cougar teams have faced tougher schedules than the current slate, but this group is in good shape to break the school ERA record of 3.02 set in 2006, when the Cougars advanced to an NCAA Super Regional at Georgia Tech.
The staff has had 23 quality starts, including 15 in the last 18 games.
NCAA Tournament spirit
"Right now, they're just feeding off each other and that's kind of what you want," Heath said. "The success and confidence just keeps growing."
The tone was set long before the first pitch of the season. Heath credits former top pitchers Christian Powell, Matt Pegler, Dre Watts and Jake Zokan.
"That group of guys put our pitching on the map," Heath said. "Then because we had progressed pitching-wise, we got some pretty good recruits in here."
Heath was hard on his pitchers in the fall. His message: "You have to be pretty tough to pitch here."
They have to keep it going. The remaining CAA weekend series are against some of the better teams in a weak league: at UNC-Wilmington (6-7 in CAA play), home against William & Mary (11-3) and at Hofstra (5-7).
"I think we do need to turn it up a little bit," Bauer said, "and I think we're definitely up for the challenge."
That's the kind of spirit that winds up in the NCAA tournament.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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